Author Jeanette Winterson
This is the spoiler full review of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson. It’s the story of a young lesbian trapped in a religious upbringing. If you would prefer to remain spoiler free but still want to read about this girl’s journey please visit here.
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is the first novel of Jeanette Winterson. If you are unfamiliar with her work I strongly suggest you read Written on the Body or Sexing the Cherry. Both are absolutely brilliant and where I started with my love for this amazing author.
Oranges shows the promise of her later works but you can tell it has a little more inexperience as a writer. She still has a lovely way with words and building characters with just somewhat less nuance.
It is a short book, 176 pages, and although you could read it in one sitting the subject matter is a bit heavy and you might need to take a break.
It’s about a young women named Jeanette, one wonders how autobiographical this is. She is being raised by an extremely religious mother and her church.
As a child she does not know any differently and assumes herself to be quite religious as well.
I know from experience how real this can be. I too was raised in a religious household and didn’t stop to question it until my teenage years. Many people underestimate the power of indoctrination.
The government mandates that she attend public school and her mother agrees only to avoid being arrested or having Jeanette taken away from her.
A health problem causes Jeanette to go temporarily deaf and nobody in her family cares. They consider her to be full of the holy spirit and don’t question her unusual behavior. It isn’t until she tells a teacher at school that she is provided with any treatment.
Her mother visits her in the hospital but does nothing to ease her worries except bring her oranges. Her mother heals all ailments with oranges.
Jeanette returns to school but her religiosity causes her to be an outcast. Her mother consoles her emotional pain with more oranges.
She finally finds a friend when she meets another young woman named Melanie. She invites her to church and Melanie is terrified enough to want to convert. They begin a bible study together.
Meanwhile, Jeanette discovers she was adopted and doesn’t actually know who her real family is but has no idea how to find them or anything about them. This probably starts her questioning the ties she has to this family and this religion.
Jeanette and Melanie begin a relationship of exploration. They are no longer just friends and aren’t quite educated enough about sex to understand any of what they’re doing. They only know that they feel for each other and what they’re doing feels good.
But the church elders have an idea and they out them publicly at church in order to humiliate them and force them to renounce their sinful ways.
Melanie immediately renounces but Jeanette refuses because she doesn’t understand how her love could possibly be a bad thing.
Jeanette is sent away with an older woman who takes advantage of her. They have sex and Jeanette hates it but doesn’t know that she can make it stop. This scene is extremely uncomfortable. The less an individual knows about sex the more traumatic it is likely to be.
She returns home to find many church members waiting for her with her mother. They pray over her for a full day and then starve her for two more in order to break her down. She gets a fever and has a vision of a demon. She has an epiphany that she must make a show of repentance.
Jeanette approaches Melanie after this trauma but Melanie refuses to live in sin with her and Jeanette is heartbroken.
She does find a new secret girlfriend some time later named Katy. Shortly after she discovers that Melanie is to marry an Army man. The time line is a little unclear here.
Jeanette and Katy are at church when the pastor blames all the sin on women being given any amount of power within their church. Jeanette’s mother agrees publicly that this is the case and that Jeanette must be sent away to be a missionary instead of wielding influence on the home-front.
Sigh, this is all too real. For people who have not experienced this kind of religion first hand it may seem unlikely but believe me, there are women who believe this out there.
Jeanette leaves to be a missionary and some time later returns home for the holidays. She is treated poorly and like an outcast who can never lift the stain of her sin.
The book ends with her no longer understanding her place in the world. She is uncertain about the existence of god or his place in her life. All she knows is that her place is no longer with that family.
We do not know where she went from there but we can assume that she left in confidence and went somewhere more accepting. It is ultimately a story of hope but we are left to fill in the rest.
Personally, this story is very relatable but I realize that not all readers are bisexual women who were raised by zealous christians with a deep mistrust of public schools and government programs like I am.
For those of you who don’t fall into that category this book is still wonderfully written and tells a powerful story of this type of experience. It shows how damaging this kind of thought can be to those who don’t fall within the accepted mindset of their peers.
4/5 oranges 🍊🍊🍊🍊
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Buy it here: Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit